The leadership of the House of Representatives backed the measure expanding the scope of acts constituting sexual harassment in the office, schools, and training institutions, and which increases penalties for the offense.
The proposed measure contained in House Bill 8244, or the Expanded Anti-Sexual Harassment Act, was approved on second reading before Congress adjourned its session last Friday.
The bill aims to expand the definition of sexual harassment, strengthen the mechanisms to monitor compliance with policies against sexual harassment in the workplace and in educational and training institutions, as well as prescribe penalties for violations.
It upholds the rights of women and secure their well-being especially in the workplace or in training and educational institutions where discrimination against them is prevalent.
“The State shall value the dignity of every individual, enhance the development of human resources, and ensure full respect for human rights. Thus, all forms of sexual harassment against anyone are declared unlawful,” the approved bill stated.
HB 8244 seeks to repeal Republic Act 7877 or the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995.
RA 7877 currently imposes a fine of P10,000 to P20,000 and imprisonment ranging from one month to 6 months.
HB 8244 provides stiffer the penalties to a fine of P50,0000 to P200,000. The length of imprisonment remains the same.
It also imposes a fine of P20,000 to P50,000 for those who will violate the victim’s right to privacy during the investigation, prosecution, and trial period.
Sexual harassment as defined in the bill, is “an act, which may be committed physically, verbally, visually or with the use of information and communications technology, including any other means, that would result in an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment for the victim. This, regardless of the act committed within or outside the place of employment, training, or education.”
The bill mandates the employer or head of office in a work-related, education, or training institution to implement a comprehensive written policy on sexual harassment, which shall outline the detailed procedure for case investigations and the administrative sanctions.
It shall be their duty to prevent the commission of sexual harassment acts.
In line with this, the employer or head of office shall 1) promulgate appropriate rules and regulations; 2) create a Committee on Decorum and Investigation within one year of the agency’s existence or initial operations; and 3) resolve cases within 15 days from the submission by the CODI of its report to the disciplining authority.
An institution with 20 people shall be exempted from the establishment of the CODI, as long as an individual is designated to perform the duties and responsibilities of the Committee.
The functions that shall be undertaken by the CODI shall include the following:
1. receive complaints of sexual harassment;
2. investigate on the complaints;
3. constitute a hearing committee for every case;
4. submit a report with a corresponding recommendation for decision within a non-extendible period of 30 days;
5. lead in the conduct of discussions within the institution to increase understanding of sexual harassment and prevent its incidents;
6. provide security and support measures to the victims, among others.
The measure provides that the employer or head of office shall be liable for the damages that will arise from acts of sexual harassment, as well as if they are presumed to have knowledge of such acts and no immediate actions are carried out.
The bill provides that maximum penalties shall be imposed if the perpetrator is anyone who has authority, influence, or moral ascendancy over another’s work, training or education.
Agencies mandated to monitor the institutions on their compliance to the Act shall include the Civil Service Commission, the Department of Education, the Commission on Higher Education, the National Labor Relations Commission, and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.